Mathias Goeritz

El Serpente (The Serpent)

Goeritz The Serpent Courtesy Ida Rodriguez Prampolini And Daniel Goeritz Rodriguez 1 1500 Jpg - © Mathias Goeritz © Armando Salas Portugal Foundation
  • Mathias Goeritz
  • El Serpente (The Serpent)
  • 1953
  • Painted wood
  • 428 × 874 × 407 cm
  • Courtesy L.M. Ida Rodríguez Prampolini and Daniel Goeritz Rodríguez & Galería La Caja Negra, Madrid. Reconstruction authorized by Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, Mexico City, 2016. - © Mathias Goeritz © Armando Salas Portugal Foundation

A massive abstract wood sculpture, El Serpente (1953) was the first object to greet viewers to the Museo Experimental El Eco in Mexico City in 1953. Mathias Goeritz designed the building to be a “living institution,” a space to host multidisciplinary projects. The sculpture’s dips and peaks are both reminiscent of a snake’s movements and recall the ancient temple-pyramids of Mesoamerica. Goeritz intended El Serpente to be the opening statement for the museum, his first attempt at producing “emotional architecture.” El Eco was a Neo-Concrete building designed to house art, music, theater, literature, and cinema all under one roof, with the stated purpose of producing “spiritual uplift” by eliciting “true emotions.” Goeritz hoped the museum would be an antidote to what he saw as the cold and de-humanizing rationality of postwar Mexico’s functional architecture. 

The dramatic abstract form of El Serpente complimented the architecture of El Eco, a fanciful building that eschewed the regularity of level surfaces or right angles. Its irregularities invited the viewer to actively engage with the space, creating a highly personal experience of both the building and the sculpture. But El Serpente had a functional and social component as well: it was used as a set for dance performances, such as the one choreographed by Luis Buñuel (1900–1983) and performed by the Walter Nicks dance group. By inviting participation and interaction with the space around it, El Serpente exceeded the parameters of purely rational Concrete art.

Megan Hines

Biography of Mathias Goeritz

  • Born 1915 in Danzig, Germany
  • Died 1990 in Mexico City, Mexico
German-born architect, artist, and writer Mathias Goeritz studied drawing at the Kunstgewerbe- und Handwerkerschule (Arts and Crafts and Artisan School) Berlin-Charlottenberg while studying philosophy and art history at the Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Berlin (PhD, 1940). During World War II he migrated to Spanish Morocco, where he lived and taught from 1941 to 1944. After the war, Goeritz settled in Spain, where he began to paint. In 1948 co-founded the free-minded artists association, Escuela de Altamira (Altamira School). The following year he moved to Mexico, where Ignacio Díaz Morales invited him to teach at the Escuela de Arquitectura of the Universidad de Guadalajara (University of Guadalajara; until 1954). In 1953, in his seminal architectural project Museo Experimental El Eco (Eco Experimental Museum), Goeritz presented his Manifiesto de la Arquitectura Emocional (Emotional Architecture Manifesto) and La serpiente de El Eco (The Serpent of El Eco, 1953), one of his first large-scale sculptures. After moving to Mexico City in 1954 he concentrated on public abstract sculptures, which he often executed with other artists and architects, such as Luis Ramiro Barragán Morfín Torres de Satélite (Towers of Satélite, 1957). In the late 1950s Goeritz initiated his “Mensajes dorado” (Golden Messages) series of spiritually motivated monochromatic, abstract images, in gold leaf on wood. From 1961 onward Goeritz returned to his former large-scale, collaborative practice and also worked in Jerusalem.